It's not a really great ice fishing year in the DWR Southern Region. But Fish Lake has been consistently good, especially for splake.

One thing you have to do for certain in southern Utah — watch out for thin ice.

That's good advice for ice fishermen all over Utah this year, but it's especially true if you're fishing in southern Utah, which has had a very mild winter so far.

Dale Hepworth, DWR Southern Region fisheries manager, said ice fishing has been good at some southern Utah waters, but anglers must be extremely careful. Even some of the higher elevation waters, like Panguitch Lake and Fish Lake, still had open water at mid-January.

The number of good, fishable waters in the southern region is down this winter. Otter Creek was poisoned. Koosharem was drained. The birds have pretty much wiped out the fish at Minersville. Newcastle and Upper Enterprise are very low. Quail Creek is closed.

As far as big waters go, that pretty much leaves Piute, Panguitch and Fish Lake. Reports indicate the ice situation at Piute has been marginal. Fishing should be fair through the ice and in the open water. Some nice fish up to five pounds are available.

Panguitch has been pretty good, and ice was available, although there was also some open water at the last report.

Fish Lake has been the bright spot. Ice fishing has been excellent for splake and rainbow. A few lake trout are also being caught. The DWR is encouraging anglers to release all lake trout. Pamphlets and posters are being distributed to help with identification.

"It's fine for people to keep fish," Hepworth said. "But we hope they would keep splake and rainbow, not lake trout. We hope people will voluntarily release the lake trout." One good reason to release lake trout and keep splake is the splake are such great eating. "They are excellent table quality," Hepworth said. "They have bright pink flesh ... they taste like a high mountain brook trout."

The splake being caught at Fish Lake range from 12 to 17 inches. Some three pounders are being caught, and one five pound splake was caught. The rainbow range from very small to 2-3 pounds, with most in the 12-13-inch range.

Some perch are also being caught by anglers who fish closer to shore and use smaller lures and baits.

Hepworth said most anglers catching rainbows are fishing a foot or two off the bottom, using ice flies or small lures tipped with salmon eggs or meal worms. For splake, use a little bigger reflective lure like a spoon, and jig it. It's not always necessary to tip the lure with bait, but most people do it, Hepworth said. Meal worms, sucker meat and nightcrawlers are used. The splake are fairly aggressive and seem to bite better if the lure is moving, jigged up and down.

Not many people have been fishing Fish Lake during the week, but as many as 150 have been on hand on weekends. Hepworth suggested anglers watch the winter storms. Officials try to keep the highway open, but if a big storm hits, anglers could be stranded for a while.

Hepworth is very pleased with the splake program at Fish Lake. The splake have added a dimension to fishing that wasn't there before. They have created an excellent winter opportunity and give anglers the chance to catch some pretty big fish without a lot of expensive equipment and specialized skills and knowledge. About 80 percent of all the winter catch at Fish Lake is splake.

Beyond those bigger waters, Hepworth suggests anglers experiment at some smaller lakes and reservoirs like Mill Meadow, Forsyth, Johnson, Posey, Lower Bowns, Kolob and other waters. Some waters are impossible to get into because of snow, but this year more may be accessible than usual.

One unique water that provides good fishing this time of year is Redmond Reservoir near Salina. Redmond is Utah's best northern pike water and January and February are the best months of the year.

Redmond has a warm spring and a large expanse usually doesn't freeze. Most of the northerns aren't real big, but quite a few small ones are caught this time of year.